The number of Americans applying for state unemployment benefits held steady last week as the nation's labor market continued a tepid recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic shutdown.
The latest jobless claims figures from the Labor Department, which cover the week ending Sept. 5, show that 884,000 workers sought aid last week, pushing the total number since the shutdown began to more than 60 million.
Economists surveyed by Refinitiv expected 846,000 new claims. Last week's total was revised upward to 884,000.
“The latest jobless claims report is a disappointing reversal in what were once promising declines," said Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor senior economist. "After weeks of steady decline, initial unemployment insurance claims have reversed course for a fourth consecutive week of increases."
Continuing claims, the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid, ticked up slightly by 93,000 to more than 13.3 million.
Roughly 1 million unemployed Americans have been seeking aid each week for the past six months, when the COVID-19 crisis triggered an unprecedented shutdown of the nation's economy, pointing to a sluggish turnaround. It's down from the peak of more than 6 million claims in late March, but remains well above the 200,000 reported in February. Before the pandemic, the record high was 695,000, set in 1982.
The Labor Department changed the way it adjusts state jobless claim figures last week -- a tweak intended to improve the figure's accuracy -- so the numbers for the last two weeks are not directly comparable to previous reports.
Several large employers have also recently warned of job cuts. American Airlines said it will cut 19,000 workers in October once federal aid expires, Ford Motor is offering buyouts to salaried employees with the goal of cutting 1,400 workers, MGM Resorts is laying off 18,000 workers and Coca-Cola is offering buyouts to 4,000.
Economists have urged Congress to overcome a month-long stalemate and pass another round of emergency relief for workers and businesses reeling from the pandemic and have warned that without additional stimulus, the recovery could stall out.
The Labor Department's report comes on the heels of new government data released last week that showed the economy added 1.4 million jobs in August, sending the unemployment rate tumbling to 8.4% from 10.2%. While it marked the fourth month of job growth in the millions, there are still 11.5 million more out-of-work Americans compared to February, before the pandemic struck.